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Federal court orders delivery of PLN to Washington prisoner Don Miniken

Spokesman-Review, Jan. 1, 1998.
Federal court orders delivery of PLN to Washington prisoner Don Miniken - Spokesman-Review 1998

NOTE: Don Miniken is now PLN's Executive Director.

Tuesday, June 16, 1998

Inmate fights for right to receive mail

When Airway Heights Corrections Center tried to censor Donald Miniken's magazine subscription, he filed suit and won.

By Karen Dorn Steele
The Spokesman-Review (Spokesman Review)

Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Donald Miniken's lawsuit earned prisoners the right to receive mail sent third-class.

Of all the gripes Airway Heights inmates have, access to mail is the biggest.

Donald Miniken took his complaint to federal court - and won.

Miniken, who is 42, used to own a Seattle construction company. He has two years left in a 15-year sentence for kidnapping and trying to extort money from his business partner.

He was transferred to Airway Heights from the Washington State Penitentiary in 1995. But his $15 subscription to Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine produced by two Washington state prisoners, stopped with the move.

"I found out they were throwing it in the trash," Miniken says of prison officials. He filed grievances asking for his magazine back.
Airway Heights administrators considered the publication junk mail - third-class bulk mail that's not deliverable inside the prison. In a memo, one mail room employee called it "a threat to the orderly operation" of the prison.

Miniken - a quiet man with wire-rim glasses, two children and a college education - didn't accept that. He filed suit in July 1996.

Seattle attorney Mickey Gendler took the case for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush ruled there was no reason to ban Prison Legal News, and accused prison officials of finding excuses to censor inmate mail. He said prison officials changed their definition of bulk mail twice after Miniken filed suit.

"The court is reminded of Lewis Carroll's classic advice on the construction of language: 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful voice, 'it means what I choose it to mean,' " Quackenbush wrote.

State taxpayers paid the legal tab. Quackenbush ordered the Department of Corrections to pay Miniken $1 in damages and $30 for the two years he didn't get the magazine. Gendler got $4,339 in attorney fees and costs.

The state attorney general's office has appealed, but Airway Heights now allows subscription mail that's sent third-class, says prison spokesman Cly Evans.